Guest Blog by Lynn Elliott of Elliot’s Shed

Having brought the dismantled Hattersley treddle loom from the Isle of Harris in a van, the re-building of it at Elliott’s Shed, took an age for a non-mechanically minded individual who used to have major problems fitting bicycle wheels.

Starting with the support frame it grew very slowly by tentatively adding one piece at a time, often removing them and adding them again in a different position. These are solid chunks of cast iron that trap fingernails for fun, spanners slip and knuckles crunch, quite a learning curve. But eventually, with a grudging admiration for the men who made it, the old loom came together and then the real work started.

It’s difficult to explain just how complex the balancing act of timing this apparently simple machine can be. There are numerous motions, at least a dozen, that all have to coincide exactly in order that when the shuttle is fired across the race board, the threads of the warp are lifted sufficiently and in the right order to permit the weft to correctly interlace and form the required fabric.

Foot treddles move up and down, shafts and bevelled cogs turn horizontal motion into vertical motion, cams drive picking arms that whip the flying shuttle through the tunnel of threads and then stop it dead with a crash, reverse it and fly it back in the opposite direction through a different cats cradle of threads, reformed only split seconds before. Cogs whirr, pawls click and gradually a web of woollen threads is beaten out in front of you by the forward and back motion of the beam. Thinly woven and rough, with broken threads the first few inches appear, constant adjustments are made, days and weeks pass by as timing theories are tested and fail. Eventually, patience and perseverance prevail, tweed starts to slowly wind around the front roller, the angry, uncontrolled, almost malicious collection of mechanical movements meld into a gentler motion that click and clack to a remembered rhythm.

Even as the trial warp is gradually turned into fabric it is difficult to relax, every pass of the shuttle is an opportunity for it to stop short and bring down a trap of threads. Eventually, the sound and cadence of the loom becomes second nature, any discord identified, rectified and remembered. It is then possible to sit at the treddles and marvel at the ingenuity of those geniuses, who out of necessity and possibly a hope for profit first put these contraptions together in the Industrial Revolution.

by Lynn Elliott
Elliott’s Shed

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